5 Immune Boosting Vitamins and Minerals
One of the best ways to keep the immune system in top shape, is by listening to the body talk, resting when needed and eating a variety of whole clean real foods. Our immune system functions with a well-tuned symphony of diverse white blood cell types, all with targeted and critical roles.
It is best to ensure that you are keeping your vitamins and minerals in balance, to not only avoid the cold and flu season, although keep yourself healthy and vibrant year-round.
I have complied a list of the top vitamins and minerals to keep the immune system in tip top shape this fall and winter!
1. Vitamin A, nourishes the gut mucosal immune system, helping it decide what is nourishing the gut or a toxin that it needs to get rid of. Vitamin A is both a fat-soluble nutrient and a steroid hormone. Vitamin A plays a wide range of key functions in the body, in particular Vitamin A is critical for the ongoing health of surfaces which line the body which are called epithelial cells (e.g. our skin, eyes, respiratory tract, GI tract, urinary tract). It is also crucial for good vision, which you might have heard a time or two of carrots being good for the eyes, as an insufficiency can lead to impaired vision or night blindness
The good news is we are designed to get Vitamin A from our diet, think of the following foods such as carrots, kale, berries, eggs, sweet potatoes and organ meats which are all a great sources of Vitamin A.
VERY IMPORTANT: Keep in mind that Vitamin D and Vitamin A actually bind to the same final cellular receptor in the body. So increased uptake of one (such as Vitamin D in the summer or when you are taking a supplement) can cause a relative deficiency in the other. Therefore, if you notice you can’t shake a cold, or a stomach bug it would be worth it to have your Vitamin D and Vitamin A values checked.
2. Vitamin B6, is one of the most essential dietary immune-boosters. It is a known catalyst for multiple bio-chemical reactions that take place in the immune system. It also manufactures antibodies to take on the harmful bacteria and virus. Dietary sources include chicken, fatty fish, organ meat, whole grains and leafy green vegetables.
3. Vitamin B12, insufficient levels impact numerous processes. It effects your immunity by reducing your while blood cell count, increasing your vulnerability to infections.
Vitamin B12 is a vitamin that we are rampantly deficient in these days, in particular for the following persons:
those who are taking PPI (proton pump inhibitor) medications or other drugs to suppress stomach acid to get relief from acid reflux.
are 55-60 years of age or older– as stomach acid production has typically declined dramatically by then
are taking the drug Metformin to help manage their insulin resistance especially those with Type II Diabetes
consume a strictly vegetarian or vegan diet as active Vitamin B12 is only available from organism sources
Signs of deficiency could be a numbness or tingling in the extremities – fingers, toes, eyes and brain as Vitamin B12 is extremely important for Red Blood Cells and making them small enough to fit into our smallest capillaries and help with circulation. Another sign of a deficiency would be memory loss, trouble with balance, a chronic cough, disrupted sleep, along with general fatigue and malaise, as Vitamin B12 effects both circulation and the nervous system.
If any of this sounds familiar and you are looking to learn more, I welcome you to reach out and we can investigate doing some lab testing to see where you might be vitamin or mineral deficient.
The best dietary sources of Vitamin B12 are eggs, meat, shellfish and diary.
4. Vitamin C, is one of the most commonly known vitamins in giving the immune system a boost by facilitating cellular functions of the innate and adaptive immune systems. It also protects essential biomolecules from damage caused by oxidants due to toxins and pollution.
Although did you know it does more than that?! It is one of the most important anti-stress, detoxifying and antioxidant vitamins that there is.
Foods rich in vitamin C include oranges, grapefruits, mandarin orange, strawberries, bell peppers, spinach, brussels sprouts, kale and broccoli. Daily intake of vitamin C is essential for good health because your body doesn’t produce or store it.
The good news is that vitamin C is in so many foods that most people don’t need to take a vitamin C supplement unless they are tested for a deficiency.
5. Vitamin D, plays an extremely important role in your immune system and can be a determining factor in whether or not you develop an autoimmune disease. In fact, it is so effective that an analysis published in the British Medical Journal suggest it could provide a reduction of more than 3 million of the British population from getting colds or flu each year.
Our immune system relies on vitamin D to form antimicrobial weapons which target bacteria and viruses. Similar to vitamin C, it is particularly effective at preventing respiratory tract infections such as colds, flu and pneumonia, etc.
It is recommended to be taken by supplement in seasonal climates, where the sunlight is scarce, as the food sources are limited, you are best to take a daily supplement ideally a Vitamin D3. I am happy to provide recommendations based on your needs, as it is very important to read the ingredient labels and not just go for the cheapest supplement at your local pharmacy or grocery store, which most likely contains sugar, possibly lactose, an artificial sweetener or who knows what else… which there is no need for any of the above in a Vitamin or mineral.
Minerals for the Immune System
Minerals are also very important in keeping the immune system in tip/top shape!
The immune boosting minerals are zinc, magnesium, iron, selenium, copper and folate. The jury is out whether it is possible to obtain enough of each nutrient from the diet, due to topsoil erosion. A combination of the key vitamins and minerals are part of keeping your immune system healthy.
Zinc – is actually a “trace essential element” which means that our body doesn’t make it naturally, even though we need it to survive. Zinc appears to help slow down the immune response and control inflammation in your body. Zinc can also help with digestion and help regulate hormone production.
Zinc is available in oysters, crab, lean meats and poultry, baked beans (please check the labels for added sugar – and skip those ones), yogurt, chickpeas and pumpkin seeds.
Magnesium – is an antidote to stress, the most powerful relaxation mineral available, and it can help improve your sleep. Did you know that over 2/3rds of the American population are Magnesium deficient! That is substantial. Be on the lookout in your body for anything that is tight, irritable, crampy, and stiff, Charlie horses while sleeping, whether it is a body part or an even a mood as these are all signs of magnesium deficiency. This critical mineral is actually responsible for over 300 enzyme reactions and is found in all of your tissues, and mainly in your bones, muscles, and brain. You must have it for your cells to make energy, for many different chemical pumps to work, to stabilize membranes, and to help muscles relax.
Dietary sources include, kelp, almonds, cashews, buckwheat, Brazil nuts, millet, pecans, walnuts, rye, tofu, soy beans, brown rice, figs, dates, collard greens, shrimp, avocado, parsley, beans, barley, dandelion greens, and garlic.
A supplement is also an option, although again, please ensure it is a quality supplement that is clean of any additives. Reach out if you would be interested in recommendations.
VERY IMPORTANT: People with kidney disease or severe heart disease should take magnesium only under a doctor's supervision.
Iron – Iron, which helps your body carry oxygen to cells, comes in different forms. Iron is an essential mineral.
Iron is an important component of hemoglobin, which is the substance in red blood cells that carries oxygen from your lungs to transport it throughout your body. Hemoglobin represents about two-thirds of the body’s iron. It is very important to note, that if you do not have enough iron, your body cannot make enough healthy oxygen-carrying red blood cells. You might be familiar with the term “Iron deficiency anemia” and that is highlighting that there is a lack of red blood cells.
As you can imagine, without healthy red blood cells, your body is not getting enough oxygen. And if you are not getting enough oxygen in the body that leads to fatigue. It can affect brain function to the immune system’s ability to fight off infections.
Keep in mind that the body can more easily absorb “heme iron,” which can be found in poultry such as chicken and turkey, along with seafood. And other forms of iron can be found in beans, broccoli and kale.
Selenium – Selenium is essential for the efficient and effective operation of many aspects of the immune system in both animals and humans. Selenium allows for the immune system and the liver to function at their optimal level; and without adequate selenium in your body, your immune system and liver will remain vulnerable. If you notice you are frequently coming down with infections or it takes a long time to recover, colds etc., then it could be an indicator your selenium is low. The reasoning behind this is that it is much easier for viruses to replicate inside your body if there is an inadequate selenium level inside your cells. Essentially, think of it as viruses can have a party in your body if there isn’t enough selenium to stop them.
Food sources of selenium are garlic, onions, broccoli, sardines, tuna, Brazil nuts and barley. If you are feeling low on selenium a simple recommendation is eating a few Brazil nuts daily for a few weeks’ time to bring it back up.
Folate – Did you know there is a difference between folate and folic acid? Folate is the natural form, and folic acid is the synthetic form, often added to foods because of its health benefits.
A excellent way to bring more folate into your body is by adding beans and peas on a regular basis, as well as leafy green vegetables.
And don’t forget the importance of REST, listen to your body talk, stop what you are doing and truly REST.
Reduce sugar consumption, alcohol consumption and smoking, any exposure to these toxins in the body has an detrimental effect on the immune system.
Keep it simple, eat nutritious food – minimum 250 grams of vegetables daily should be the target along with 200 grams of fruit and cautiously use supplements when and where necessary. Get plenty of sleep, rest when needed and aim for a consistent exercise regime without overdoing it: over-training is can wear down the immune system.
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School of Applied Functional Medicine